A Blinding Pill to Swallow?

woman eyesOn Monday we brought you news about the health benefits of sex. Today the news is not so good….and for many women will be extremely concerning.

Research presented earlier this week at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual meeting, showed that women who have taken oral contraceptive pills for three or more years are twice as likely to suffer from glaucoma.

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness affecting nearly 60 million worldwide.

glaucomaThe researchers caution gynecologists and ophthalmologists to be aware of the role oral contraceptives might play in glaucomatous diseases, and inform patients to have their eyes screened for glaucoma if they also have other risk factors.

The study – conducted by researchers at University of California, San Francisco, Duke University School of Medicine and Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University, Nanchang, China – is the first to establish such increased risk.

The researchers utilized 2005-2008 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The study group included 3,406 US women aged 40 years or older who completed the survey’s vision and reproductive health questionnaire and underwent eye exams. They found that females who had used oral contraceptives, no matter which kind, for longer than three years are 2.05 times more likely to report that they have glaucoma.

aao posterAlthough the results of the study do not speak directly to the causative effect of oral contraceptives on the development of glaucoma, they indicate that long-term use of oral contraceptives might be a potential risk factor for glaucoma. Certainly, “the pill” needs to , be considered as part of the risk profile. Other risk factor include:  African American- ethnicity, family history of glaucoma, history of increased eye pressure or existing visual field defects. Previous studies in the field have shown that estrogen may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of glaucoma.

This study should be an impetus for future research to prove the cause and effect of oral contraceptives and glaucoma,” said Shan Lin, M.D., lead researcher and professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of California San Francisco. “At this point, women who have taken oral contraceptives for three or more years should be screened for glaucoma and followed closely by an ophthalmologist, especially if they have any other existing risk factors.”

Given the fact that 28% of all sexually active women in the US are on the pill, that’s a lot of glaucoma screening. You may want to call your ophthalmologist or optometrist now and get a jump on the line. Alternately, you may want to reconsider your birth control.

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An Aspirin A Day…Takes Your Sight Away?

amdSRxA’s Word on Health has frequently reported on the health benefits of aspirin.  So we were more than a little shocked to read a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine which suggested that people who regularly use aspirin may be at increased risk of age-related macular degeneration [AMD].  This eye condition is common  among people age 50 and older and is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults.  AMD gradually destroys the macula, the part of the eye that provides the sharp, central vision needed for seeing objects clearly. 

age-related-macular-degeneration1In some people, AMD advances so slowly that vision loss does not occur for a long time. In others, the disorder progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in one or both eyes. The vision loss makes it difficult to recognize faces, drive a car, read, or do close work, such as sewing.

bayer low doseBut don’t go tossing out your Bayer’s just yet!

In this study, researchers at the University of Sydney looked at a large group of  people who took  daily low-dose aspirin as a preventive measure for cardiovascular disease.

Of nearly 2,400 elderly people studied over a 15-year period, 10% were regular aspirin users. Of that group, 25% developed  macular degeneration over that time frame, compared to 9% who developed it but were non-aspirin users.

While these results were statistically significant, more research needs to be done before  recommending that patients stop taking doctor recommended aspirin.   Despite their results, even the researchers admit that there’s just not enough evidence to support stopping aspirin therapy unless a person already has strong risk factors for age-related macular degeneration.

Ophthalmologist Justis Ehlers, MD, agrees, “Aspirin has clearly been shown to have good secondary prevention for different cardiovascular diseasesWe need to sort this out over time to see what it means.

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